Meet the bluefin tuna, the toughest fish in the sea - Grantly Galland and Raiana McKinney
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The Atlantic bluefin is perhaps the best studied fish in the world, with numerous scientists from universities and governments spending millions of dollars each year to learn more about this amazing fish. Atlantic bluefin is a highly migratory species that can travel vast distances across the Atlantic, often crossing many domestic and international borders. To better understand their life history, scientists are studying their migration patterns through electronic tagging and biological sampling. Just from muscle and bone samples, researchers can learn about an Atlantic bluefin’s age, origin, and relatedness to other individuals. Read more about how Atlantic bluefin maintain high body temperatures and the advantages that this provides them from some of the earliest research who made this discovery.
The value of Atlantic bluefin
In addition to their role as apex predators, the Atlantic bluefin’s commercial and cultural value and its unique adaptations have garnered the attention of artists, fishers, writers, engineers, and scientists alike. Our animation focused on the interesting life of an Atlantic bluefin in the water. But for humans, its influence on our culture extends beyond the sea. These traditions – and culinary practices around the world – depend on the sustainability of this species. Atlantic bluefin is considered a delicacy, found primarily as sashimi in high-end restaurants or as a local delicacy in parts of Europe. As a result, fleets of fishing vessels traverse the Atlantic in hopes of cashing in on the value of the species globally--sometimes leading to intentional mislabeling of tuna products or illegal activity amongst fishing operations. Learn more about Atlantic bluefin’s value in the global economy.
Turning the tide on overfishing
With incredible value comes substantial fishing pressure. Atlantic bluefin have been fished in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, using a variety of fishing gears--including giant, traditional fish traps that are still used today. Scientists believe bluefin in the Mediterranean may have already been overfished (i.e., experiencing too much fishing) before modern fishing practices. Despite that long history, overfishing and illegal fishing were most significant in the 1990s and early 2000s, when catch limits were set way too high and those limits were also not enforced or respected. The situation worsened to the point that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) considered, but did not formalize, a trade ban for Atlantic bluefin in 2010. That would have put Atlantic bluefin on par with pandas and rhinos. Fortunately, strong action by international regulators, led by vocal campaigns from nonprofit groups and concerned fishers, has halted much of that bad behavior. However, continued diligence remains necessary.
Atlantic bluefin fisheries management
Like all fisheries, those targeting Atlantic bluefin require management by governments in order to prevent destructive practices that threaten sustainability. In the case of Atlantic bluefin, governments must work together to manage these activities – a result of this species’ wide-ranging geography. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO), a group legally mandated to manage fisheries that catch tuna and tuna-like species that migrate through the Atlantic – including Atlantic bluefin. One way to improve management of all fishes is through a modernized management system known as harvest strategies. These pre-agreed, science-based frameworks for making fisheries management decisions (such as setting catch limits) take the politics out of fisheries. Through harvest strategies and other modern management techniques – like use of electronic monitoring cameras or other surveillance tools that improve traceability – we can preserve the ecological and economic value of tunas around the world for centuries to come.
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